EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Adrian Peterson carried the ball only 23 times in Minnesota’s last two games.
He didn’t complain to the coaches this week about the play calls, though.
“I don’t think I had to,” Peterson said.
Yes, the Vikings already knew. No matter the situations, the score or the lack of space Peterson was finding in the defense, that wasn’t nearly enough attempts for their All-Pro running back. They’ve acknowledged since that they weren’t patient enough with their supposed-to-be-stellar ground game.
“We can’t get away from it,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “We know how we’re built.”
Peterson gained only 90 yards on those 23 carries in lopsided losses to the Panthers and Giants by a cumulative 58-17 margin.
“Any time you have two games with 13 carries or less, you definitely want more touches to get in the flow of things,” Peterson said Thursday.
“One thing that we’re going to do and get back to focusing on is establishing the run, getting those guys up front working and sweating and then be able to become more balanced.”
Earlier in the week, Peterson called for the entire offense to be “more physical,” a directive obviously aimed at the linemen. Nobody was about to argue with him.
“That’s the MVP of the NFL so I’m going to take his advice,” left tackle Matt Kalil said. “We’re pretty tough on ourselves as critics, so I don’t think anyone is going to give any harsher judgment than we do on ourselves. We know we have to be more physical and maintain our blocks so he can run with the ball and do what he does best.”
This Sunday night, they host the rival Green Bay Packers, a team Peterson has enjoyed plenty of success against, particularly last year. He had 55 carries for 409 yards over the two regular-season games, before being held to a mere 99 yards on 22 carries in the playoffs.
Last year, the Vikings demonstrated a confident patience with Peterson even when running plays weren’t working early in games. Part of that was due to quarterback Christian Ponder’s struggles. Once Peterson hit his stride in mid-October and the date of the reconstructive surgery on his left knee was pushed further and further in the past, however, there was this sense of only-a-matter-of-time inevitability that Peterson was going to break free for a big gain.
Like the 78-yard touchdown run he had on the first play of this season. The problem for him and the Vikings (1-5) is that those bursts into the secondary and beyond have been scant since. His longest gain on Monday night against the Giants was 8 yards. Though the Vikings were trailing by 16 at this point, their last 28 snaps were passing plays.
Even in the second quarter after the Giants went ahead 10-7, only six of 17 plays by the Vikings were runs. On their only possession in the first quarter, Peterson carried the ball on two of six snaps.
The offensive line is the same, as is the offense itself. So what’s the deal?
“It’s just defenses making better plays than us. I know when you guys watch the game it may not seem like a big deal, but it is something we see when we watch film,” Kalil said. “If one person maintains their block a little longer and if we make a better play there, we’re out and making a big gain. It’s just the little things we’ve got to fix.”
Peterson actually has more yards rushing (511) now than he did after the first six games last season (499), when he galloped through the second half to surpass the 2,000 mark and win the NFL MVP award. But he has a long way to go to catch up to that pace.
Lately, he’s had some soreness tightness in his right hamstring, though he returned to full participation in practice on Thursday. He said that hasn’t been a factor in his unusually quiet performances this month.
“I feel like it was more in my mind. It’s strange to say that, but I think I was kind of holding myself back, not being able to stretch out and really run,” Peterson said. “I think I was kind of hindering myself. Now that I’m able to be more relaxed and got a clearer mind, I think I’ll be able to go out there and roll full speed.”
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